Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

No work and all play - 12/2001

Paul Sloane - CEO for Xpert Client Software (XCS)

From your office window you survey the satisfying scene of staff beavering away at their desks. There is a reassuring hum as the photocopier and fax machines churn out the fruits of your employeesí labour and a comforting click, clickety-click, as keyboards are worked over-time. All is well in the office, or is it? I suggest you take a closer look, because all may not be as it seems. What first appears to be staff working hard to finish that overdue report could actually be the cover for a multitude of sins.

Gone are the days of the ìwork hard, play hardî ethic. Today, when faced with long hours, increased stress and insufficient spare time, employees have begun to adopt a ìslacker ethicî in which work is the enemy which must be avoided by any means possible, be it through surfing the Net for hours on end, sending countless emails, or playing Minesweeper from nine to five.

So what if employees break up their day with a few sly rounds of Solitaire, you may ask. Admittedly, nobody can be expected to work consistently without an occasional break but as the Internet and all things e-related gradually take over the workplace, the kinds of games people play are more sophisticated, and a lot more addictive. For example, one unnamed US Government Department discovered an elaborate ring of computer blackjack gamblers operating in its offices. Such game playing can lose companies hundreds of pounds in downtime hours and finding expensive solutions to curb this time wasting.

Gaming, however, is not the only form of slacking in the workplace. Abuse of the companyís email and Internet services are becoming a common problem. Most employees need access to the Net for work purposes, but many overuse it, blocking the company network and costing businesses thousands of pounds every year. Recently a new and perhaps more serious problem has arisen from the Net in the form of file-sharing applications. This new form of software, which can be easily downloaded from the Internet, allows the swapping of files (audio, graphics, animation, etc.) between users, across a network.

It may seem innocent enough for employees to be sharing episodes of The Simpsons around the office, or watching the new Britney Spearsí video on their PC, but the consequences of such activity can be severe. Using file-sharing applications such as Napster, Gnutella and Freenet allows users from around the world, let alone the office, to connect to your computer and copy the shared files, causing your machine to run slowly and the company network to be hindered. More serious, perhaps, than this, are the possible legal issues that come with file sharing applications.

In one case in Sunrise, Florida, employees were trading an episode of the comedy cartoon South Park using the popular file-sharing application, Napster. Fortunately in this instance, the employer was aware of the high-profile lawsuits that had been filed against Napster and he banned the software from all PCs in the company before any legal issues could arise. Other companies have not been as lucky and have been sued over the presence of unlicensed, copyrighted, song, film and animation files on their computers.
The new EC ìWorking Time Directiveî also makes slacking quite a serious offence in the workplace. This Directive demands that employees only work a maximum of 48 hours per week. It is therefore in the employerís interest to ensure that these 48 hours are spent working, rather than playing, gambling, or any of the other many and varied activities which staff are finding to waste their time over.

How can employers put an end to this ìslacker ethicî? Taking up a permanent stance at your office window may be one way to discourage time wasting but another, more effective method, could be to employ a software asset management device. One such tool is XCSís Desktop Xpert, which is able to monitor computer activity and build a complete picture of all software usage within an organisation.

XCS employs an agent on each individual desktop within an organisation, which reports back to a central console. This information is then used to build up a picture of the software in use within the office and allows an employer to click on an individual software application and find exactly who is using it and how frequently. By monitoring Internet Explorer, XCSís Desktop Xpert is also able to assess how much time an individual spends on the web and can identify any software that has been downloaded from the Internet, allowing employers to put a stop to the use of applications that may cause financial or legal damage to the company.

Using a tool such as this can not only hunt out slackers within the workplace, it can also serve as an effective deterrent to those employees who are contemplating that extra game of Minesweeper. Martin Brokers, the oldest established money broking firm in London, recently installed Desktop Xpert onto their network in order to control software installation from a licensing point of view. After installation, Richard McElligott, IT manager, discovered a variety of games and other unwanted pieces of software installed on the organisationís computers.

ìDesktop Xpert allowed us to identify a number of games and undesirable bits of software on the company PCs, something which we would never have been able to do as easily previously. Now that we can use Desktop Xpert to identify exactly what software is being used and by whom, we are in a position to delete all undesirable software and persuade staff to be more disciplined.î

So next time you gaze out onto a sea of devoted employees slaving over their computers you would be well advised to take a closer look. Slackers are everywhere and it is time to put a stop to their time wasting, before their furtive game-playing and excessive emailing puts a stop to your business.

Xpert Client Software specialises in the design and delivery of PC audit and desktop risk management tools, technologies & services.